In an interview, Elvis referred to his return to Tupelo to play the 1956 fair as “my homecoming…” and the city turned out to prove him right.
In October 1945, Elvis sang “Old Shep” a cappella and placed 5th in the MS-AL Fair youth contest. Thus in Tupelo – at a county fair – Elvis begin what would become one of the most remarkable careers in entertainment history. The fair opened the gate for other local performances, such as Mississippi Slim’s “Saturday Jamboree” which took place on the courthouse square every weekend and was broadcast live by WELO radio.
Fall 1948, the Presleys left East Tupelo for a better life in Memphis, but their heart would forever remain in the small town and with their small circle of friends. It was a quiet move, unnoticed and perhaps an absence not even missed by many in the town.
As Elvis’ began the climb to fame, he played gyms and jamborees in Tupelo and the surrounding area: Amory, Corinth, Belden.
But in 1956, he returned to Tupelo with Vernon and Gladys in tow – triumphantly escorted from the Tennessee state line all the way into town by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
“Tupelo Welcomes Elvis Presley Home” the banner stretched across Main Street proclaimed. Elvis had flown in from Hollywood, where he was filming “Love Me Tender” just for this event. He had missed the parade with bands from the local schools playing Elvis songs, floats with Elvis themes and every storefront window of every shop with an Elvis display.
The Governor proclaimed it Elvis Presley Day. The mayor gave him the key to the city, fabricated to look like a guitar by one of the local manufacturing shops not unlike the ones Gladys used to sweet in for eight long hours a day.
Legions of fans turned out to welcome Elvis home.
“Elvis: Homecoming” is the story of that day. Elvis’ story and the story of many who were here either as a dignitary or a spectator. It is also the story of Elvis’ first performance at the fair in 1945 and his final appearance in 1957. During the research for this documentary, I have uncovered film footage of the parade, many never before seen photographs, a 1957 interview by WELO, and some unique and heartwarming stories.
I look forward to sharing this story with all who love Elvis when it is completed. Relive this historic event as Tupelo folk remember the day Elvis came home.
Tupelo historian Roy Turner held an introduction of his documentary during Bill Burk’s Birthday Luncheon. We were pleasantly surprised by what we saw, and hope we will be able to see the final result on DVD later this year.